Until I read this book, Buzzati's "Il deserto dei tartari" was my favorite novel, perhaps my only novel, the only one I cared to keep re-reading through life. This is, remarkably a very similar story about the antichamber of anticipation (rather than "the antichamber of hope" as I called Buzzati's book), but written in a much finer language, by a real writer (Buzzati was a journalist, which made his prose more functional) ; the style is lapidary with remarkable precision; it has texture, wealth of details, and creates a mesmerizing atmosphere. Once you enter it, you are stuck there. I kept telling myself while reading it: "this is the book". It suddenly replaced the "deserto".
A few caveats/comments. First, I read it in the original French Le Rivage des Syrtes (French Edition), not in this English translation, but I doubt that the translator can mess up such a fine style and the imagery. Second, the blurb says Gracq received the Goncourt prize for it. Julien Gracq REFUSED the Goncourt, he despised the Parisian literary circles and by 1951 decided to stay in the margin. He stuck to his publisher José Corti rather than switch to the fancy Gallimard after his success (as Proust did) (or other publishing houses for the fakes and the selfpromoters). Third, this book came out a few years after Buzzati's "deserto", but before Buzzati was translated into French. I wonder if Gracq had heard of the "deserto"; the coincidence is too strong to be ignored.